One of the landmark discoveries of the past century was that of plastic. First time ever, a product emerged to ease human life notably for its matchless features -- cheap, reusable and recyclable. The last of the three features made plastic one of the most gifted products human brains succeeded to innovate. While there is no point arguing this, it is also true that the virtues for which plastic has been praised for long appear to be now largely overshadowed by pollution caused by its reckless use all over the globe.
Although pollution, for most part, is manmade -- let loose by poor waste management and inadequate application of recycling methods -- the fact remains that plastic pollution is a catastrophe on a scale that is difficult to grasp. Across the world, humans are exposed to harmful plastic -- consuming particles in fish, swallowing it in drinking water and even breathing it in from the air.
Scientists now estimate that if we do not act, by 2050, our oceans will contain more plastic than fish. There are already 150 million tons of plastic in the seas, but the horrifying prediction is that this could treble in the next seven years. It is said that since 1950, a colossal 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced (220 million tons per year).
Clearly, poor or inadequate recycling of plastic waste is to be blamed. This is a scene common to most developing countries, and Bangladesh is no exception. In fact, the situation of plastic waste recycling in the country is a grim reflection of the extent of environmental hazards caused by the plastic industry all over the country. In Bangladesh, although the government is providing tax exemption on account of recycling, and reduced bank loans are also being availed of by the enterprises for the purpose, recycling is appallingly low. A study conducted in this regard says that only a small volume of plastic waste is actually recycled leaving the bulk of the harmful stuff to cause environmental degradation, soil erosion, water logging and so on. The study, however, mentions that with the facilities and technology currently available in the country, 50 per cent of the waste material could be recycled.
Findings of the study conducted by a private research body, Waste Concern, reveals that as much as 72 per cent of the plastic waste is not recycled. The study further mentions that this high volume of waste, not properly disposed of or recycled, deprives the country of substantial earnings which could be well over Tk 60 billion annually. The yearly production of the country's plastic factories, from more than 5,000 units, is approximately 4 million tonnes, of which more than 1.0 million tonne turns into waste. But the volume of waste recycled, according to the study, is only around 28 per cent.
This, no doubt, explains that efficient waste management is integral to exploiting the prospect of plastic manufacturing. It is this urgency that needs collaborative efforts of the government and the private sector towards working on an effective waste recycling and management policy. This, experts believe, is the key to flourishing the prospects of the country's plastic industry. While improvements in infrastructure, product development are integral to the growth of the industry to desired levels, waste management and recycling are some of the critical areas in need of urgent attention. It has been found that of all the wastes, accumulated on a daily basis in the country, the share of plastic is more than 60 per cent. However, doing away with the waste is relatively easier compared with those from other sources due to the user-friendly recycling technology. But in the absence of systematic methods of collecting the waste and recycling facilities, the bulk of the waste is left to pollute the environment.
One of the main benefits that most countries derive from recycled plastic waste is substantial saving on procuring raw materials and increased earnings from recycled products. Findings of the aforementioned study say that if the waste of plastic factories in and around Dhaka alone is recycled with appropriate technology, 75 per cent of the waste could be tuned into fresh products, which would amount to around Tk 7.0 billion in foreign exchange. This indeed explains that an added focus on recycling and growth of the country's plastic sector are mutually inclusive and reinforcing.
An important point that needs to be mentioned here is that not all grades of plastic are recyclable. So, the problem associated with recycling lies in the various grades of plastic that are in use. This is a problem all over the world, including in the advanced countries. There are thus talks of banning use of those grades of plastic that cannot be recycled. An alternative suggestion forwarded by experts is to allow only a few (preferably one or two) recyclable grades for manufacturing plastic products. Given the dangers looming not too far, it is likely that most countries will agree to work on such a common agenda-to cut pollution and benefit from the infinite possibilities of plastic.
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